A couple years ago I was watching video of the EuroMaidan in the Kiev. What I was particularly interested in was reconciling my own relatively new mindset as a Sheepdog with the reality on the ground there. If there were paramilitary forces involved, irregulars and combat trained civilians in the mix of violent protest, where would I stand? How would I contribute? Would I be present? What manner of physical risk would I take to get a first hand look at such a struggle? As much as I appreciate a lot of the footage I have seen at Vice, I tend not to trust young journalists. Then again, I don't trust attorneys and a whole host of professionals to assay such situations, movements, protests, and conflicts. All I can do is look, and occasionally read, and speculate about how long it will be before I have to make such choices for real.
So I found myself doing that again this weekend. The subject was not Kiev, but Berkeley, a place that has its own special history in the minds of many people of my generation. Having been present at the Women's March in Los Angeles earlier this year, the contrast was stark. I also wrote quite a bit about clashes in Ferguson, MO when that went down. I haven't said much about this, the beginning of the Trump Era, but I do know what I don't like about globalization and what kind of nationalism I would prefer. All I can predict at the moment is that we don't have a particularly clear and easy path to my kind of nationalism, but the grounds are set. I think I will be thinking a lot about them in the near future.
The first matter at hand is the rule of law and the social contract. What a significantly ample fraction of young boisterous Americans take with them is a sort of alienation from a respectable and satisfying mainstream. The blame must ultimately fall on the upper class whose duty it is to employ the right Americans in the right positions of power such that society is more or less coherent from the point of view of its productive members and those who wish to be. Let me have a shorthand stroke at this and blame a certain kind of capitalist. When I lived in Brooklyn in 1992, there was a rumor that South African racist was aiming to be the biggest hiphop producer in the world, and that he was going to singlehandedly turn hiphop into the big money business in a way that Public Enemy and Spike Lee could not. He was going to bring 'white boy wallet' to the hiphop game. Maybe it was nothing more than a rumor about Lyor Cohen, 'Elroy' who got the 'gas face' according to 3rd Bass. I don't know. But the point was that the very influence that so many rap artists desired might come from someone with no respect for themselves or for their craft, presuming they had souls in the first place. What I did know is that hiphop began to lose its artistic edge, and all of its female protagonists as the old school gave way to the commercially successful new. It was enough to alienate all aesthetes, connoisseurs and critics, those who would uphold standards for the maintenance of the soul of the craft. And that, my dear friends is what's happening all over this country in the professional ranks. We are getting accustomed to eating a lot more shit, and it makes us want a lot more bread. Life should not be a shit sandwich, but for too many it is. So those with the courage of their convictions go Alt.
I have talked about the Alternative Slice before as well as the Anti-Slice.
Consider a baseball analogy. Imagine you are going to attend a baseball game, and so as the owner of the stadium you need to hire chefs. In the world of cooking skills, and the world of baseball game attendees, all that is required and expected are hot-dog level skills. Despite the fact that fresh pizza, sushi, rock candy, pineapple lemonade and oyster po' boys would all make for superb ball-game fare, you can rely on the lowball tastes of the baseball fans to guarantee you only need to hire three master chefs instead of seven. The three you hire are 'The Slice', the four you do not are ''The Alternative-Slice''.
The greatness of this country can be seen in the surplus of Slice candidates. We have a built-in reduncancy and competitiveness. But the fragility of the country comes from that same fact. The Anti-Slice is underemployed or suffers from the fact that they are out of the mainstream. If they continue long enough, out of favor or the employ of the ruling class, they become contrary, and unless and until their desires are met, they harbor all possibilities and potential for subversion and revolt. They may become more than the alternative but in word and deed the Anti-Slice.
I see the operation of Slice, Alternative-Slice and Anti-Slice in most political, technical and social discussions of the day, and I recognize that the national failure is the fault and responsibility of America's ruling class. I tend to see the Alternatives attempt to crowdsource their funding and popularity and the Antis work oppositional to the mainstream.
The Alts of the American politics have shown up in Berkeley to bring their bodies and anger to the streets. They are right at the point at which they are ready to throw punches. The ante has been upped since the days of Occupy and Ferguson. Americans are showing up with helmets, masks, sticks and stones. And although a lot of those sticks are selfie-sticks, there are people who are really prepared for violent confrontation. This is nowhere near the size, scope and import of the EuroMaidan, but this is the tip of the spear in American violent conflict. There are a lot of Americans who hate each other, and those few Americans who are part of an addled upper class are not in a position to mediate, or in any way bring calming, responsible arguments to these partisans. In any major American city there are a million voters whose solipsisms. identity politics and conspiracy theories are sufficient to derail considered deliberation in government and politics into shallow, irresponsible populist rule. It won't be long until such cities run off the rails. If we are fortunate, the rot will happen slowly, as it did in Detroit over the decades. If not, it will happen quickly as it did in Baltimore over a weekend. But when the haters come dressed to clash, the police will be outnumbered.
It will be a callous perversion of democracy, each side electing corruptible agents whose aim will be to punish the other side, dumbing down government agencies in the process. But this is what the Alts want. They want to win the Culture War and take only the Government hostage. This is the amount of misplaced faith Americans have put in government which controls the prize of funding and ultimately of troops. That is the way of the rule of law, because the Alts believe that their extremism is a necessity. This is the law of the jungle which celebrates diversity for its own sake. Such a jungle has no well developed commons. It only has the lowest denominations of the commons, and so everything is done 'for the children' or for 'love, peace, Namaste and respect'. That's no Constitution, but it has a large griping constituency, many of whom are willing to defy the law until it ratifies a new narrowcast social contract.
Whose streets? Our streets! Yes but who are we when only a minority of Americans actually pledge allegiance to anything other than their own playlists?
The more afraid the elites of America are of these rascally itinerant mobs, the less likely any subtlety and nuance will be given to their affairs. And like the spoiled millions who thought they were flying friendly skies, the disposal of the least significant scofflaw will light a reactionary fire that will further erode confidence in our society. Look about you. We are already talking in emoticons and propaganda, in sitcoms, puff pieces, reality TV and comic book films. I would like to think that something on the order of the blogosphere of a decade ago might make the difference. I'm not sure that Alternative Slice will get another chance. Will we get another Joe DiMaggio? Another Tip O'Neill? Another John Glenn? It's hard to imagine from where such a saint might emerge, considering what selfies we take with our cardboard cutout heroes.
I expect that there remains a core of Americans who will have no difficulty doing what's right according to well-considered and most importantly, correct values and priorities. I simply wonder what mechanisms aside from crisis and abject failure of the status quo will bring them to responsible power. I have no desires to see American society descend into violent chaos, but I'm already thinking about what clothes I would wear into the Berkeley streets.